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Presidential Pardons and Commutations

Learn How to Get a Presidential Pardon

Applying for a Presidential pardon can be a difficult process, and the chances of success are usually low. But our federal criminal lawyers in Washington DC can help someone who is serving time in prison for a federal crime, or who have been convicted of a federal crime, apply for and receive a pardon or sentence commutation from the President of the United States.

Article Two of the U.S. Constitution grants the President the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

There is a specific procedure for individuals who want to petition the President for clemency in the form of a commutation or a pardon. Petitioners should submit their requests to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, an agency in the Department of Justice that advises the President on how to exercise his or her clemency powers. The President usually defers to the recommendation of the Pardon Attorney, so it is important to file a strong petition and get the Pardon Attorney on your side.

What is the Difference Between a Pardon and a Commutation?

A sentence commutation shortens a person’s prison sentence or the amount they owe in fines and restitution, while a pardon restores the civil rights a person loses after they have been convicted of a felony offense, such as the right to vote, the right to run for office, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to possess firearms.

What are the Requirements for a Presidential Pardon?

While the President can grant someone a pardon at any point, even before they are charged with a crime, a person requesting a pardon should wait five years after their release from prison or the date their sentence was imposed before they can file a petition for a pardon. The petition must be submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney and should also include at least three affidavits from people who can vouch for the petitioner’s character. People on probation, parole, or supervised release are generally not eligible for a pardon through the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

Generally, there are five factors the Department of Justice considers when evaluating a request for a pardon:

  • The petitioner’s post-conviction conduct, character, and reputation
  • The seriousness and relative recentness of the petitioner’s offense
  • The petitioner’s acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and atonement
  • The petitioner’s need for relief, including the burdens caused by his felony conviction
  • Any official recommendations or reports, including those by the prosecuting agency or other stakeholders

What are the Requirements for a Commutation?

An individual serving a sentence under federal law can apply for a sentence commutation by filing a petition with the Office of the Pardon Attorney after they have lost all of their appeals. The petitioner should include information about their background, their criminal offense, and their criminal history. A petitioner should also specify whether they are seeking a reduced prison sentence or probation term, a reduced fine or restitution amount, or both. A sentence commutation does not change an undocumented immigrant’s immigration status.

There is no fixed standard for who can get a sentence commutation and who can’t, though the DOJ considers it an “extraordinary remedy” that should rarely be granted. Factors the DOJ will consider include, but are not limited to, disparities between a petitioner’s sentence and the sentences of similar offenders, the unfair harshness of a sentence, a petitioner’s critical illness or old age, a petitioner’s meritorious service to the government, such as through cooperation, or other factors not anticipated by the government.

What are the Limits of Pardons and Commutations?

The President and the Office of the Pardon Attorney only have the power to grant commutations or pardons to individuals convicted of federal crimes. Individuals with state convictions or serving time in state prisons are generally able to petition for clemency from their state’s pardon attorney. In Georgia, for example, there is the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

How Can an Attorney Help Someone get a Pardon or Commutation?

Our firm has experience advocating for people serving sentences and seeking to restore their civil rights. An experienced federal attorney can prepare a persuasive petition for a pardon or sentence commutation based on issues such as recent changes to federal sentencing laws, the petitioner’s extraordinary rehabilitation, a petitioner’s severe illness or elderly age, and other compelling reasons that make the individual’s petition get attention from the DOJ and President. In cases where records from the Bureau of Prisons or other government agencies will come into play, our firm has the experience and contacts to obtain those records in a timely manner.

An attorney can also help you navigate the laundry list of requirements for filing a petition with the Office of the Pardon Attorney. An experienced attorney can help you ensure the accuracy of the information containing in the petition while identifying and emphasizing the strongest reasons supporting your request for a pardon or sentence commutation.

Recent Developments in Federal Pardons and Commutations

Former President Donald Trump granted a significant number of federal pardons and commutations. During his Administration, people could seek a pardon without going through the traditional process and petitioning the Office of Pardon Attorney.

Presidents take different approaches to the pardon power granted to them in the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution places very few limitations on this power and provides no specific procedure for reviewing pardon requests. That is why it is important to know the specific people involved in the pardon process and how they view certain requests.

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